Align This! No More Divisions, NHL Goes To 4 Conferences

Photo: dirtydangle.com

The much-debated and wildly prognosticated NHL divisional re-alignment plan threw everyone completely for a loop in the final throes of the matter, as a new plan was approved late Monday night that will re-align the league into 4 Conferences — 2 with 7 teams, 2 with 8. Names don’t appear to have been part of the plan that was approved, so they are merely being referred to as A, B, C, and D.

Here’s what the new NHL will look like:

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Didn’t we just do this? : Hoss goes for 400

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Just under a week ago, the Phoenix Coyotes walked into the United Center and kicked the shit out of the Blackhawks in every aspect of the game. It was probably one of the three worst performances the Hawks put in this year – along with the Vancouver and Edmonton debacles. The Hawks had one good shift in the opening minutes and then watched the Coyotes dominate the last 55 minutes of the hockey game. The UC was a funeral parlor and you would have had to be drunker than Matthew Barnaby to enjoy yourself. Since that horrible evening, each team has played 2 games. The Coyotes were 0-2 in that time (losing to Winnipeg and Philly), while the Hawks took care of business against the Islanders and St. Louis.

The Coyotes come into the game 13-9-3, good for 4th place in the Pacific Division and 9th in the Western Conference. In their last 10 games they are a very mediocre 5-5-0, but they play their best hockey on the road, sporting a 7-4-1 record. The Hawks dominated the first meeting between these teams and the Coyotes controlled the second.

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Up Yours: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Blues

(Dilip Vishwanat, Getty Images)

It doesn’t get much sweeter than beating the St. Louis Blues on their home ice in front of the biggest contingent of degenerates known to man.

Cheer louder for a hit than a goal? Check.

Looking like dip shits during your power play “dance?” Check.

Getting behind a team that quite obviously can’t compete talent-wise so it has to resort to playing like cheap hooligans? Double check.

Saturday’s 5-2 win at the Whatever the Hell They’re Calling it Now Stadium Arena Place was a nice kick in the ass to a team which, admittedly had been playing well – especially there. If the ‘Hawks had to play the Blues for 82 games, no one would have to worry about the “coming out flat” talk or wondering where their energy is hiding.

It’s a Sunday, so no random thoughts or anything. Here’s your Boxing…

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Slam Dunk?: ‘Hawks Seek 2 Easy Points vs. Islanders

Gorton's Fisherman!

After a pathetic showing on Tuesday night, the Hawks’ get a chance to redeem themselves against one of the worst teams in the NHL. The Islanders roll into United Center at 7-11-4 with just 18 points. They are dead last in the Eastern Conference. To put things in perspective, the Isles have exactly 1 more point than the Columbus Blue Jackets. They suck very badly.

Things were supposed to be better for the Islanders this season but it just hasn’t happened. They are dead last in the NHL with just 1.96 goals per game and have only one player, Frans Nielsen , on the right side of the plus/minus category.  Everybody’s favorite former Blackhawk Marty Reasoner was picked up to provide veteran leadership and has not yet recorded a goal and is a team worst-14. That should make you feel a little better about Stan Bowman not holding onto him last season.

Former #1 overall pick John Tavares looked poised to have a breakout season, but has disappointed with just 8 goals and 8 assists in 22 games. Tavares is tied for the Islanders lead in goals with linemate Matt Moulson.  These aren’t horrible numbers, but they aren’t exactly great for a #1 overall pick. Michael Grabner had a great season last year but has underperformed this campaign with just 7 goals. line with Kyle Okposo and Nielsen.

One imagines the Islanders will stick with Al Montoya in goal. They have won two games in a row with him and probably won’t want to interrupt their little streak. They are a rare team that carries 3 goaltenders and Montoya is playing ahead of  2010 Stanley Cup run victim Evgeni Nabokov and biggest waste of money ever, Rick DiPietro.

Hopefully Nino Niederreiter plays –  his name is awesome.

The Blackhawks come into the game tied with Detroit at 31 points – but the Red Wings have 2 games in hand. The Hawks’ have a ton of home games coming up here in December and need to make the most of it. A Friday night home game against a team like this is a game the Hawks’ simply need to have.

The Hawks’ played like shit on Tuesday night and they know it. As you probably know by now, Joel Quenneville juggled the lines again and has moved Patrick Kane back to RW with Jonathan Toews.  As Bartl pointed out yesterday, it’s a risky move breaking up Toews and Patrick Sharp right now as those are the only two Hawks’ doing anything offensively as of late. But they can’t have both Marian Hossa and Kane struggling at the same time and a shake up isn’t uncalled for. Freddy Kruger is moving up to the 2nd line to center Hossa and Patrick Sharp – all that good work lately has paid off for Kruger.

Neither Dave Bolland or Brent Seabrook practiced yesturday, but both are expected to dress tonight.

Q will go with Ben Smith tonight ahead of Bryan Bickell, who has been a goddamn ghost of late. Bickell is clearly in the doghouse, and it will be a good chance for Smith to show him being a healthy scratch since Edmonton motivated him.

Corey Crawford is expected to get the nod in goal again for the Hawks’.

Bottom line: The Hawks’ need to walk out of this game with 2 points. No excuses. Beating the shit out of them like they did last season 5-0 would do just fine. Get it done.

Hjammer Down

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward

Note from Bartl: I am very proud to welcome the newest addition to Cheer the Anthem: Chris Deme, who is the creator of the famous Facebook page Joel Quenneville’s Mustache. Chris is finishing up this year of law school at the moment, but he will be adding his thoughts on a regular basis. Please give him a warm welcome, as we are all very excited to have him on here at CtA!

Mentioning the name Niklas Hjalmarsson around Hawks fans these days is sure to start a debate, not only about Hjammer’s current state, but also his future on the Hawks.  It almost seems like a “Civil War” is brewing amongst Hawks fans about what to do with him, with half of Chicago wanting to give him the ax, while the other half are ready to drop to their knees and beg Bowman to stick with him.  As a law student, I’ve been trained to examine both sides of every issue or argument, so I’m notorious for playing devil’s advocate in everything I do.  That being said, let’s take a look at both sides of this debate.

Let’s start with Hjammer’s numbers, because as the saying goes, numbers don’t lie.

•  Age: 24

•  Cap Hit: $3.5 million through 2014

•  Goals: 0

•  Assists: 2

•  +/-:  4

•  Blocked Shots: 62

•  Hits: 19

•  Average TOI: 20:23

Pros:

Hjalmarsson is 24 years old, which means he still has time to improve.

Hjalmarsson, along with teammate Sami Lepisto, lead Blackhawks defensemen with a +4.

Hjalmarsson’s blocked shots currently rank 4th in the NHL just behind Josh Gorges, Ladislav Smid, and Niklas Kronwall.  He has improved his shot-blocking skills each season.  In 2009-2010, Hjalmarsson posted 137 blocked shots.  After the departure of shot-blocking specialist Brent Sopel the following year, Hjammer posted a team-leading 166 blocked shots (13th in the NHL).  This season, Hjammer is on pace for just shy of 200 blocked shots.  He has undoubtedly taken over as the shot-blocking specialist on the team.

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Changes : Kane Back To Right Wing + No Bobby Ryan

( Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE, US PRESSWIRE / April 24, 2011 )

Hawks news first :

A lot going on at Hawks’ practice today. Joel Quenneville has decided to reunite Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line. Viktor Stalberg will ride along on the left wing. Stalberg must have died in a previous life saving a bunch of babies from a fire. He is very, very lucky.

It appears Marcus Kruger will get a shot to play with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the 2nd line. You could feel the shake up coming after the 4-1 drubbing against the Coyotes. Kane has been way to quiet lately along with Hossa and Dave Bolland. Q also appears to have taken Bryan Bickell off double secret probation and is putting him back with Bolland and Michael Frolik.

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Bang and Blame : The Natives Are Getting Restless

( Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE, US PRESSWIRE / November 29, 2011 )

It wasn’t that long ago the Blackhawks had a dominating lead in the Central Division and led the Western Conference .

That is no longer the case.

Their lead has all but disappeared. The Hawks hold an insignificant one-point lead in a very tight division and the Blues and Red Wings each have games in hand on the Hawks.

The honeymoon is over and this season is quickly becoming a roller coaster ride that everyone would like to get off. Any talk about running away and hiding in the Central Division after Christmas has disappeared and the discussion has become about survival rather than dominance.

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Sorry, Chicago: Boxing with Blackhawks and Coyotes

Much like Carcillo on this punch, the 'Hawks whiffed against the Desert Dogs. (Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

I read on Twitter the Blackhawks were 8-1-0 in their last nine games when returning home from a road trip of four games or more.

Well, that sure went to hell fast.

The awful parts of the Circus Trip resurfaced on the United Center ice in a 4-1 embarrassment against Phoenix. I’m not trying to treat a shit performance at the end of November like life or death, but this was such a listless performance that it’s hard to ignore.

Quickly before I get to Boxing…

Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy played like a pile of dog shit. They both had better views of a couple goals tonight than the damn goal scorers themselves.

Mike Smith needs to be challenged more. Viktor Stalberg had a chance in the first period and didn’t get a shot off as he skated right past the net, Marian Hossa hopped around more than he shot the puck, as he and Jonathan Toews ended up with one shot apiece. I could have thrown some magazines on my shins and beat the ‘Hawks tonight.

Corey Crawford has to get better – and fast.

The Blackhawks were too aggressive when they should have held back, and not aggressive enough when they should have attacked. It was a backwards performance that resulted in a horrible performance in what was supposed to be at least a return home with a decent effort. Instead, we were witness to a bad line change, another delay of game penalty, bad decisions and shaky goaltending.

With Friday brings the possibility of redemption, and it can’t get here soon enough.

Boxing…

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After Up and Down Circus Trip, Crucial December Awaits

(Dale MacMillan, Getty Images)

The Blackhawks’ annual Circus Trip made Barnum and Bailey’s act look as entertaining as a trapeze artist with no arms.

The two-week jaunt had everything. They curb-stomped rival Vancouver 5-1, looked like an AHL team while getting outscored 14-4 in Alberta, partied in Vegas before it got better with a tough 1-0 loss in San Jose on Blackout Wednesday, then ended well with edge-of-your-seat, back-to-back victories in the Golden State.

The unpredictability of sports is what constantly draws fans in, and this last trip exhausted most every emotion possible while watching this ‘Hawks team.

Coming out of it 3-3-0 is what most of us hoped, even if Brent Seabrook was healthy for all of it. Chalk that up as a victory, despite the fact two of the three losses were as ugly as a bearded lady.

Take the six points. Move on. There’s plenty more next month to get crazy over. And yes, I realize there’s still one more game left in November, but when have we ever stopped looking ahead?

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A Farewell To Kings: Blackhawks Finish Circus Trip In L.A.

Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks played arguably their best period of hockey in the third period against Anaheim, coming back from a 4-2 deficit to put the game in the win column with a 6-5 victory. Jonathan Toews notched 2 goals and 3 assists to go along with Patrick Sharp’s hat-trick. Corey Crawford had a solid outing stopping 24 shots, while Jonas Hiller had his night spoiled by getting the hook when the ‘Hawks onslaught got the best of him.

Whatever happened in the locker room between the 2nd and 3rd, it needs to happen before tonight’s game. If the ‘Hawks bring that kind of energy against the Kings, they’ll be in pretty good shape.

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